For weary job seekers, the holidays can seem like the perfect time to pull up the covers and retreat until January.
But that's exactly the wrong attitude, say career counselors and job search experts. Contrary to what many assume, the season between Thanksgiving and New Year's can be the best time for job hunters.
Why? It's a combination of factors: Less competition because fewer people are looking; more social opportunities to rub elbows with people who can help you; year-end hiring cycles to fill job vacancies; and better odds of finding company managers in the office or even answering their own phones.
Rather than retreat, job seekers should "bump it up a notch" by calling, mailing, talking, socializing and yes, networking, said Michael Magatelli, president of Magatelli Leadership Group, an executive coaching firm.
Among the best places: holiday parties and business mixers, such as events hosted by a local chamber of commerce, Rotary-type groups or industry trade associations.
While holiday socializing can seem daunting, now is the time to take the plunge and strike up a conversation.
"It's not that high-risk, but the rewards are big," said Don Gabor, a New York conversation coach and author of "How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends."
"When it comes to looking for work, it can make all the difference in the world," Gabor said. "If you don't strike up the conversation, how would anyone know you're looking for work or that you're someone they could recommend for a job?"
But don't be a "networking shark," whose only agenda is circling the waters for bites on job leads.
If you're walking into a room where you don't know anyone, size up the room, he suggests. Listen to conversations, seek out those who are alone, have in mind three or four people -- either individually or by company - you would like to meet.
What do you say? Introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake. Make a comment about the guacamole dip at the buffet table. Ask about their holiday travel plans. Too many people, he said, "think small talk isn't important, but it shows how you communicate, allows people to get comfortable with you" and can lead to a business connection. "It all starts with a conversation."
If you meet someone at an event, get his or her business card. Within a day or two, follow up with a handwritten note or a holiday card, Magatelli suggests. "That note says, 'It was a pleasure meeting you at XYZ event, thank you for the conversation, I look forward to following up with you in January.' "
During the holidays, when many office staffers are on vacation or reduced hours, executives are more likely to open their own mail and read the contents, especially if it's personally addressed.
Use your holiday time creatively. Magatelli recalls a local out-of-work retail executive who heard via networking about an opening with the Tuesday Morning discount chain. Unfamiliar with the company, he toured several stores, identified their strengths and weaknesses, and wrote a two-page summary. He emailed it to the chain's CEO, with the subject line, "Losing Holiday Jingle?"
That effort yielded a Dallas interview that led to a job offer "in the last week of December," Magatelli said.
If you've lost contact with former colleagues or friends, use a holiday card to reconnect. But mind your message. The first sentiment is acknowledging the friendship, not hitting someone up for a job.
A card also lets you suggest a coffee or "informational interview," which you can call to confirm now or in January.
If you're a recent college graduate home for the holidays, reconnect with your parents' friends. Ask about potential internships with companies they know. Be able to describe what kind of careers or companies you find interesting.
(Contact Claudia Buck at cbuck(at)sacbee.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com)
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